June 16 has become a very important and popular day in the life of the African child.
According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Children’s Act of Ghana, a child is any person below the age of eighteen years.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child further states that every child shall enjoy special protection, and shall be given opportunities and facilities, by law and by other means, to enable him to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity.
In the enactment of laws for this purpose, the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration.
As we celebrate this year’s event we must take cognizance of theme for the day which is “Right to Participation: Let Children be Seen and Heard.”
It is imperative that we take a moment to reflect on the reality that in Ghana, children play a huge role right from the family level to the national level and beyond.
In commemorating the Day of the African Child in our own way as Ghanaians whether in government, individual or civil society we must consider a common platform to deliberate and to find solutions to the plight of the African child particularly the Ghanaian child.
Tthe 2008 trafficking in Persons (TIP) report released by the United States Embassy in Ghana on June 9 stated among other things that Ghana is a major source, transit and destination country for children and women trafficked for the purposes of forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation.
It stated further that women and children were trafficked for sexual exploitation from Ghana to Western Europe, from Nigeria through Ghana to Western Europe, and from Burkina Faso through Ghana to Cote d’Ivoire.
More worrisome in the report is the fact that trafficking within Ghana was more prevalent under the period under review than transnational trafficking, with the majority of the victims being children.
These boys and girls are trafficked within Ghana for forced labour, domestic servitude, sexual exploitation, work in the agricultural sector and the fishing industry and as porters and street hawkers.
Many other atrocities are being committed in other parts of the African Continent especially war torn countries such as Somalia, Sudan, Burundi, Uganda, Congo and the Central African Republic.
In many cases in Ghana and Africa in general a lot of children especially girls are denied their universal right to quality basic education.
Worse, they are forced into early marriage with its attendant negative effects.
Despite the frantic efforts being made by the Government of Ghana in recent times, there are still places where kids go to school in dilapidated buildings, larger classes, without exercise and textbooks, obsolete laboratory equipment coupled with archaic technology.
This is even worse in many African Countries. These conditions demonstrably mean that the chances of these children to succeed in life are very slim if any at all. In such situations the only children who succeed are fortunate because somewhere along the way a parent or teacher instills in them the belief that they can succeed.
It appears to me that the media is doing better in exposing some of the dehumanizing acts against children than the various non-governmental organisations parading themselves as human rights and Child Rights NGOs. Perhaps, this is due to implementation failures by such NGOs, lack of funds or failure to design better assessment tests that will provide a clearer way to tracking some of these cases.
As once observed by Senator Barrack Obama the presumptive Democratic Presidential Candidate for November Elections “the time for excuses has passed – for all of us.”
Thus as the 21st Century unfolds Ghana and for that matter Africa ought to realize that child protection and development requires an understanding of the need to protect the fundamental human rights of children.
It requires that those of us who are in a position to make a difference must re-dedicate ourselves to the continual improvement of the socio-economic condition of children in our respective countries.
This is their right and this is our responsibility.
It is high time we re-framed the debate about the risk confronting children, child poverty and vulnerability of children, by highlighting the critical social dimensions of poverty and the impact it has on the ability of children to be fully included as equals in all aspects of the public and private spheres of our society.
The time has come for us to formulate policies and programmes that protect and advance the human rights of children and develop their talents and capacities.
The impoverishment of our children and their socio-economic exclusion is a legacy of colonialism and has a synergy with some factors such as race, gender, disability, class and geographical location.
We must start thinking anew about social policy and how we can promote the full inclusion of children into our vision of creating better lives for all our citizens especially orphaned and vulnerable children.
Anything less would be to shirk our collective responsibility to those who need our interventions to protect their rights. Ghana and to a large extent Africa cannot get on if children are allowed to wallow in absolute despondency and destitution.
We cannot consider our systems as democratic if children are working, begging and living under degrading conditions on the streets.
We cannot be considered to be protecting rights if racism, ethnocentrism, xenophobia, sexism, sexual exploitation and violence are suffered by the majority of our children.
We can never be a continent at peace if we continue to recruit children and youth into conflicts that are generated and sustained by adults who truly should know better.
To guarantee that we meet our obligations to the children of our respective countries in general and specifically to girls and other children facing multiple problems, governments have to be proactive in fashioning out and implementing comprehensive pro-poor policies to tackle extreme poverty and hunger.
It is only just and fitting that we value the children of our continent.
We must ensure that they can live in a world where they have equal access to quality education, have access to free basic medical and dental services, have a roof over their head, have safe clean drinking water and proper sanitation, have adequate nutritionally balanced food and do not go to bed hungry, live long healthy lives largely free of preventable diseases, are free from violence and exploitation, live in conditions of peace and harmony, are free from want and poverty, can develop their talents and capacities free from discrimination based on race, gender, disability and geographical location, are respected, nurtured and have their fundamental human rights upheld and guaranteed.
Our approach to children starts with respecting and protecting their fundamental human rights. But our experience tells us we need to go beyond that.
Public Policies of African States need to be more closely aligned with the lived experiences of children and families both in terms of the programmes that are delivered and in terms of how those policies and programmes formulated.
I am of the conviction that we need to be blunt about our approach; it must be a proactive human development approach to the well being of children that requires actions beyond the removal of barriers and risks.
Research shows the ways in which children in our society are denied participation in and access to benefits of our socio-economic gains. Children are entitled to the rights of full citizenship other than being the property of adults.
The African child is entitled to the right to expect support, care and love from parents, and the right to expect other sources of support and care from government and society.
It is often said that a government must be judged by the extent to which it cares for the well being of its most marginalized and vulnerable in society. This is wholly true in the African context especially with regards to children who live under poverty stricken conditions.
Significantly, there are many inter-related factors that coalesce to produce children in good health who are confident, content, competent, resilient and socially responsible and ready to take their rightful place as valuable members of our society.
More so child poverty does not exist in isolation. Child poverty is a reflection of family poverty and poverty and underdevelopment in society at large.
Poverty and underdevelopment, depletes the talents and capacities of our children; deprive our children of their rights and their futures.
Children must be protected, nurtured and assisted to become beneficiaries of and contributors to the creation of a prosperous continent.
Thus, the need for deliberate policies by African states which are consistent and determined to focus on addressing poverty and underdevelopment in society.
Furthermore, suffice it to reiterate the fundamental need to invest in the education of our children which is the key to providing the intellectual and social stimulation that form the foundation for the future success of our children.
This improves the life quality for our children. The rights of children and the enhancement in the well being of children in our continent must remain primary on the agenda of all spheres of government and civil society bodies.
The children of Ghana and Africa deserve nothing less from governmental and non-governmental institutions and from responsible individuals in those institutions.
This commitment is absolutely consistent with the AU Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child which emphasizes that children have age fitting tasks that build the character of future adult citizens of nations and secure the foundation for national prosperity.
In conclusion, let me say that we must advance to the future with a pledge that calls for and addresses the manifold discriminations confronting children in our society. The AU Charter on the Rights and Welfare of Children and the International Convention on the Rights of the Child are already in existence.
These documents already contain moral and legal expression of the pledge address the multiple difficulties that are encountered by the African child.
What we need to do now is to pursue vigorously the process of social inclusion that will bring all children within the broader ambit of moral and political consideration worthy of securing the legal, personal and moral considerations that are their due.
We must demonstrate a high level of solidarity with our children. In so doing, we will come to the understand that we have a shared responsibility to future generations to fortify our actions to protect and look after our children and train them to be responsible citizens, willing to contribute to the building of a prosperous African continent of which we can all be greatly proud of.
Muhammed A. Yakubu-A Youth Development Advocate.